Gophers Celebrate Support at Scholarship Banquet

Oct. 24, 2017

Gopher student-athletes and the donors who support their athletic scholarships filled the DQ Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium on Tuesday night to celebrate the accomplishments of Gopher teams and student-athletes from the previous year, as well as the donors who support athletic scholarships and make those accomplishments possible.

"At this very podium last year, I told you that I feel like I have the best job in America because I'm in the business of making dreams possible. That's as true now as it was a year ago," Athletics Director Mark Coyle told the audience of more than 400. "I hope all of you feel the same way about your role as a donor to athletic scholarships. I hope each of you takes pride in the opportunities created for young men and women through your support and generosity."

More than 500 Gopher student-athletes receive some form of scholarship support each year, with nearly half of those receiving support from endowed scholarships. Endowed scholarships are a particularly sustainable funding source, as the initial contribution is invested as principle and a portion of the annual return then fuels the endowed scholarship, covering expenses such as tuition, books, and room and board. That long-term stability helps donors to these scholarships leave a lasting legacy of support for Gopher Athletics and provide critical funding toward the department's scholarship bill, which will be more than $12.5 million this year.

"When you invest in scholarships, you are investing in generations of Gophers," said Coyle. "You make dreams possible for so many Gopher student-athletes. We can't say thank you enough for that."

The banquet began with a pair of student-athletes - Micah Coffey (baseball) and Temi Ogunrinde (track and field) - welcoming the audience and sharing what their athletic scholarships mean to them and their families. Ogrunrinde talked about her journey from a walk-on sprinter to a scholarship (and Big Ten champion) thrower, while Coffey joked about how his father almost drove off the road when his son shared the news of a scholarship offer from Minnesota. Their stories are just two of hundreds that could be shared by U of M student-athletes.

Two additional student-athletes were honored with the Williams and Berg Legacy Awards, which are given annually to recognize an outstanding male and female student-athlete at the University of Minnesota.

Gymnast Joel Gagnon received the Williams Award. Gagnon has been a standout in the gym from a young age, growing up in Saskatchewan. Since arriving at the U, he has become a two-time All-American on the floor exercise and has shown enough in his young career to become a member of the Canadian Senior National Team, including inventing a skill now recognized in the International Gymnastics Federation's Code of Points. In the classroom, Gagnon is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and three-time College Gymnastics Association All-America Scholar while majoring in Aerospace Engineering.

"Often we measure success by accolades and GPAs. Those are worth celebrating, but they are not always the best indicators of success," said Gagnon. "Success is found without an award or a test score. Perfection is not realistically attainable. To be happy with yourself, you have to reach for your goals and set your own standards for success ... no matter the results, you can look back and see it was worth your time and commitment."

Distance runner Madeline Strandemo, who competes for both the women's cross country and track and field teams, received the Berg Award. Like teammate Ogunrinde, the North Dakota native began her Gopher career as a walk-on and has since become a Big Ten champ, winning two individual titles last year as a junior: first winning the indoor mile and then winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase at last spring's outdoor championships. Strandemo is also a four-time Academic All-Big Ten and three-time UTSFCCCA All-Academic honoree, and a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar as she studies marketing and Mandarin Chinese.

"Any of my individual accomplishments are second to the team. I'll remember winning the 2016 team outdoor title far longer than any of my individual accolades," said Strandemo. "That's how it is at Minnesota. We are one big team of donors, coaches, athletes and fans. Like me, all the athletes here recognize what an honor it is to wear the M because of how much community there is behind it."

Fitting with the event's focus on highlighting exceptional student-athletes and exceptional donors, the banquet also included the presentation of the Director's Award, given each year as a way for Gopher Athletics to show its gratitude for outstanding service and commitment to the University of Minnesota's athletics program and its student-athletes. Bill and Judy Walter, long-time donors and mentors to Gopher student-athletes, received this year's Director's Award.

The voice of Golden Gopher Football and Men's Basketball, Mike Grimm, kept the program moving forward, introducing remarks from Coyle and Dusty Clements, the department's senior associate athletics director overseeing fundraising and welcoming the night's four different award winners to the stage. He also hosted a keynote question and answer session for Gopher women's hockey legend Krissy Wendell-Pohl, discussing her Olympic past, her new role as an on-air reporter for Gopher hockey broadcasts, and life as a mom to three young girls.

If you are interested in supporting endowed scholarships - and receiving and invite to next year's event - please contact the Golden Gopher Fund at (612) 626-GOLD (4653) or ggf@umn.edu.

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